Chess has long been used in the study of child and adolescent mental development for the reason it has remained a popular activity for over 1,000 years: it requires complex thought processes, including pattern-recognition, strategizing, and predictive ability. Through the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment, researchers have been able to study the human brain during a variety of activities, ranging from relaxation to intensive mental exercise. Human subjects studied while playing chess were shown to be using parts of their brains not usually associated with game-playing. Specifically, the right hemisphere of the brain responsible for pattern-recognition is engaged, and the imaging demonstrated that more of the brain is being used throughout the game. Chess experts were shown to be intensely focused on aspects of the game and tended to absorb the lay-out of the chessboard in a broad, comprehensive manner, while chess novices only focused on isolated pieces.
The development of the human brain during the years of adolescence is far more important than once believed. In fact, the most recent research revealed that the brain continues to develop into the twenties, with substantial development occurring throughout the teenage years, which occur within the 10 to 20 years of age that define adolescence. Studying the brain’s functioning during this crucial period of time, therefore, is a very worthwhile endeavor, and studying the effects of game-playing, especially chess, provides tremendous insight into the interaction of that particular activity with the brain. Problem-solving skills are central to an adolescent’s ability to mature and function in an increasingly demanding environment. Subjecting adolescents to the game of chess, then, is an ideal way to both help them develop mentally, and to study the effects of complex activities on their brains.